Saturday, November 29, 2008

Alma Guillermoprieto optimistic for digital journalism

New Yorker writer Alma Guillermoprieto believes that despite the collapse of big media companies, new forms of journalism are filling the gap. (Photo from El Informador)

“Online media have displaced the old technology of ink and paper,” she told an audience at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico, where she gave the Julio Cortazar Lecture. “Will the long tradition of journalism collapse along with the big media companies?” she asked. “We´re facing a world so new that defies prediction, but I say no, on the contrary.”

The important thing for journalists to do in this crisis situation is to go back to the basics of gathering facts, and then “tell us what you see.”

Accounts of her talk in Spanish can be found at El Universal and El Informador.

Seated next to her on the dais was novelist Gabriel García Márquez, whose foundation funds the lecture. Her talk was titled, ”How to Be a Journalist and Not Die in the Attempt.“

Mexican journalists murdered
Guillermoprieto, a native of Mexico who has covered guerilla wars and drug violence in several Latin American countries, said she was disturbed by the number of Mexican journalists who have been assassinated and have disappeared in recent years. Drug violence and corruption have escalated especially in the past few months.

Covering this type of organized crime is extremely dangerous, she said. “In a war, a reporter can go into the trenches on the front lines and come out alive, perhaps; but those who cover the druglords go down into a dark tunnel where the bullets can come from any angle.”

On the subject of the new forms of online journalism, she said, “It will be up to the new generation of journalists to invent not only the new technologies but also the new ways of telling the tales of these times; they will describe some of the most frightening dramas that human beings have ever witnessed, but they will also have the privilege of telling of the adventures and exploits that people today have not yet imagined...

“....if they succeed in reporting on this new world in depth, with knowledge, without prejudices or corruption, phony patriotism or ideological leanings; if they place all their passion and all of their time into their work; if they succeed in telling stories accessible to everyone, they will help all the inhabitants of this planet to move forward, and the journalist´s profession will not die in the attempt.“

Informador has a short video of her remarks.

It was a real treat to see two of my favorite writers. I have long admired Alma´s work in the New Yorker. When I arrived for this lecture I had no idea that García Márquez would be coming. He made no remarks but waved to the crowd.

Snoozing with Gabo

Gabo seats himself at right angles to the audience with his chin in his hand and squints at the speaker, which allows him to pay close attention to what is being said as well as occasionally close the one eye visible to the audience and possibly sneak a snooze surrepetitiously. I thought I saw him drift off once or twice. He´s 80 and has written a bunch of great novels. He deserves a rest.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mexico´s former top cop in drug war arrested for corruption

There could hardly be a better description of what´s going on in Mexico than this article from the Wall Street Journal:

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's former anti-drug czar has been detained in a widening corruption scandal that suggests a large percentage of top agents assigned to fight the drug trade here have instead been cooperating with cocaine cartels.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

“The West Wing” and Obama´s victory

Life sometimes imitates art, and I was wondering if the spirit of “The West Wing” had something to do with the outcome of the election.

That was a show that captured the idealism of people serving their country and their president within the nasty realities of politics. Their leader was a practical man and a scholar, a man driven by a sense of history and idealism, a man whose command of language could motivate people to strive for better things.

That such a show would gain a following in the U.S. was remarkable. Americans are at heart distrustful of big government and lately have become disgusted with petty partisan bickering. We have come to distrust all politicians as craven, self-serving creatures. We regard government with suspicion and see it as a haven for sluggish bureaucrats who are just marking time until they collect their pensions.

Yet in this election, it was the candidate who talked about the ideals of government serving the people who captured the imagination of people and won the election. He stayed above the usual pettiness and appealed to people´s ideals. That such a strategy would work with the jaded electorate was remarkable.

The typical strategy of going after the abortion vote, the black vote, the immigrant vote, the retiree vote, the blue-collar vote, etc., was driven by an overarching message of belief in a system that had been completely discredited.

There was a spirit of idealism flowing through the country, an idealism that people had almost lost. And I wonder if we were perhaps prepared for such a message, made ready to respond to such a message, by the spirit of a television show called “The West Wing.”

Maybe life imitated art.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cindy´s letter from Guadalajara

Cindy and I went to the U.S. consulate´s election night party last night and felt very proud to be Americans. There were lots of people from Mexican media, academia, politics and business. Here is her latest letter:

Dear family and friends,

I have been asked by several of you what my day is like. It isn’t very exciting ordinarily but we have made a few trips that have been fun. I guess I’m a housewife - grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry. The house is well outfitted now so no more furniture and house wares shopping. I have loads of spare time - no large garden to maintain, no work.

But I am very content and just enjoying my stress-free life. I fill in all that spare time with aerobics (Richard Simmons Sweatin’ With the Oldies - that’s old tunes, not old fogeys), reading, logic puzzles, cross-stitch and my photo project. I am scanning 33 years (1970-2003) of non-digital photographs and will be sorting 2001 thru 2008 into albums. I am only up to 1987 so it will keep me busy for a while. When I finish that I might start scanning all the boxes of paper we’re lugging around so we can ditch some of it.

A sculpted bush on a neighborhood street

I’ve already indulged in one obsessive side project. After buying the soundtrack for “Mama Mia”, which we saw last month, I ripped the CD to my PC and thought it was such great fun that I would put my other favorite CDs on the PC as well. This seemed like a good idea since we don’t have a CD player anymore. But my obsessive nature did not let me stop with the CDs I liked and kept right on going until I had ripped things I don’t even listen to - classics, jazz, opera . . . I managed to come to my senses when I realized I was even thinking of ripping the Cuban band CDs.

I have found an English book club and will be attending the first meeting this week. The members may give me some other ideas for spare time activities though I doubt I’m going to find a bell choir, which I miss a lot. My Baltimore bell choir just had its annual fall retreat and I am extremely envious. It was always one of my favorite weekends of the year. One reason I enjoyed it was because fall is my favorite season and the retreats are always in rural areas where fall can best be appreciated.

Minerva, a patron goddess of Guadalajara

I just realized today that there won’t be an ‘autumn’ in Guadalajara to appreciate. The nights and early mornings can be cool but we’re still running the ceiling fans by afternoon. On the other hand, it never gets so hot that we need more than a ceiling fan. I think this has to be the reason so many North Americans - US and Canadian - retire to this area because it certainly is NOT for the myriad of things to see and do.

Things I couldn’t find (see last e-mail) - I’ve found blankets, a great shopping cart at a great price that even walks up steps, and A HOME DEPOT (a life saver). The apartment looks like a home now with the addition of pictures on the walls and plants in the corners. All of you who know of my very limited success with house plants might send up a little prayer for the plants. Maybe I’ll send updated pictures with my next missive - after we buy a new camera. (Just a hint to the world travelers out there - when an airport worker is searching your check-on luggage and suggests that you might want to take your digital camera in your carry-on, you should probably take her advice.)

Chiapas Journalists give their instructor a few gifts (unfortunately no camera, which was stolen on the way to Chiapas)

Now to the trips. We have had a few day trips to nearby towns and two longer trips courtesy of Jim’s job - either for fund raising, PR, or teaching gigs. Jim has done blog entries for all of our outings as well as several about Guadalajara. You should read the following entries to get good descriptions and pictures of the places we’ve been:

July 2008
...Marriage survives on 2,959-mile road trip
...Bikes take over Guadalajara
Aug 2008
...The Chivas, Mexico’s soccer gods
...A letter from Cindy (my first e-mail)
Sept 2008
...Pagan, Catholic religions blend in Mexico (Mexico City)
...Exploring the history of Mexico City
...Discoveries in Guadalajara and Tonala
...Lake Chapala and Ajijic
Oct 2008
...A visit to Chiapas, San Cristobal, Palenque
(pictures taken with Jim’s new iPhone - not bad for a dinky little phone)

My comments about our outings -

Tlaquepaque and Tonala are part of ‘greater’ Guadalajara, as we would say in the states. They are both touted as being good places to buy Mexican crafts. I liked Tonala’s shops better - better quality, more variety and more goods. Tlaquepaque seemed more of a tourist town while Tonala is where a lot of the stuff is made and so has many factory stores for excellent ceramics, iron work, and papier-mâché. I think I like the town better, too, though it was hard to see the buildings because it was market day and the streets were literally crammed with stalls of cheaper crafts, food, clothes, toys, etc. I would like to visit on a non-market day.

Mexico City was outstanding. The architecture (ancient, colonial, ArtDeco and modern) was great as were the parks, the monuments, the churches, the street sculptures, the murals, the Aztec ruins and the museums. I had a great time except for the 2 days of diarrhea, including my birthday, which I celebrated with saltines and Sprite.

Ajijic was a nice day outing for a sunny Saturday. Small, cozy, nice shops and restaurants, some nice looking houses and gardens. Just a nice place to stroll around for a couple of hours.

The cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas, one of several beautiful churches in the historical district

Our last trip, to the state of Chiapas, was a whirlwind of canyon boat ride, waterfalls, Mayan ruins, an excruciating 10 hours in a van to get to the ruins, and the beautiful colonial center of San Cristobal. No more vans - I want a private guide and transportation on the next trip, for both the convenience of setting our own itinerary and the comfort. We had this luxury in Bolivia for 10 whole days and it was great.

We got the bikes out last weekend for the first time and rode toward the middle of town and the closed-off boulevard of Vallarta. It’s pretty scary riding the non-closed off streets because the drivers aren’t looking for you, especially those who are turning into your lane from a side street. So the riding is done cautiously and at medium speed. Even Vallarta can’t be done full out as there are traffic lights every few blocks, as well as too many bikers, walkers, skaters, and skateboarders on the street. You would hate it, Christine, but it was just about my speed for a lazy Sunday morning. And it was good to get out and see things at a slower pace than in a car. There are beautiful buildings along Vallarta - they look like colonial mansions.

We also stopped to visit an art museum that I really liked. The sculptures looked like they came right out of Hogwarts (I’ve started reading the Harry Potter series - thanks for the recommendation, Bridget.) Picture the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore with a Halloween / fantasy creature theme.

Short family update - Patrick is in Madison, Wisconsin, with his girlfriend, Emily, who is in a graduate program for African Literature. Emily teaches Pilates classes part time (I think) and Patrick is trying to upgrade the jazz scene in Madison while working for a temp agency to foot the bills. I recommend The Boy of Sax (Aug, 2008 blog entry) for those who know Patrick. If you want to hear some tunes from his solo CD, go to this website. I think my favorite is “But I’ve Never Been to Whitehall.” Here is a review of his CD Vartan Mamigonian, which can be purchased online.

Christine graduates in the spring from Johns Hopkins Univ with a PhD in Theoretical Math. Sounds high falutin’ but the job market still sucks. She is applying for post docs (combine a little teaching with research) all over the country. She has also applied for an NSF grant to do pure research which would take her to Boston. Odds are that she will be moving away from Baltimore next summer.

Bridget is a free-lance dancer and choreographer now. She performs and choreographs for dance companies primarily in Europe but she also did a stint in Chile earlier this year. Someone sent us the link on YouTube to a pirated video of a performance she gave in Rome, about 7 minutes long, to a Liza Minelli tune.

A relief from Palenque

Jim’s job here has been very demanding. His mission is “to create Latin America’s first digital journalism center designed to teach a new generation of Spanish-language journalists how to use state-of-the-art technology to produce quality interactive news.” He has 2 “offices” - home and the Starbucks around the corner - so he’s never not at work. He is also working solo at the moment. He had just hired 3 people and an office was being prepared in August when there was an administrative “coup” - most of the upper level administration changed and Jim had to fire the guys he had just hired because they worked for the previous admin.

Nevertheless his first online course started Sunday, Oct 12. Fifty editors are enrolled from 10 Latin American countries. Jim is grading up to 250 papers a week and also trying to answer the numerous technical questions that the students have. To read more about the course and its success use this link. On top of that he is trying to hire new assistants, put together another course, and help organize a series of seminars for journalists during the Guadalajara International Book Fair, a huge event held here every year in late Nov / early Dec.

I excused my procrastination in writing this entry (and most of you know I am an expert procrastinator) because I didn’t think I had very much to say. Looks like I was wrong. Hope you are all well and happy.


P.S. Yes, we voted - in October.